Looking to Further Reduce Your Worker Injuries? Take a Real Hard Look at First-Year Employees

By: | January 20, 2023

Giovanni Gallara is the chief clinical services officer at Concentra. He can be reached at [email protected].

The average employee in 2022 was far less likely to get injured on the job compared to just 20 years earlier. When using the number of injury cases per 100 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees in private industry as the benchmark for injury risk to the average employee in the United States, employees in 2000 were about three times as likely to be injured at work.

According to BLS statistics, the injury rate for private industry employers in 2021 was 2.3 cases per 100 FTE, compared to 6.1 cases per 100 FTE in 2000. While the decline in injury rates is encouraging, there is clearly still room for improvement.

For employers looking to bring their injury rate down further, first-year employees are a good place to start.

Safety and First-Year Employees

As overall injury rates have continued to drop, the share of injury claims filed for first-year employees has risen. In 2011, 32% of workers’ compensation claims were related to first-year employees; in 2021, that figure climbed to 38%. The share of first-year employees experiencing injuries has even lowered the average tenure point for injury occurrence, from 6.4 years to 5.2 years.

The statistics for first-month and first-day employees is even more striking. Injury risk is particularly elevated for first-month employees, who are over four times as likely to have a lost-time claim than those with a year of tenure. First-day jitters may be justified, as one in eight work injuries occur on an employee’s first day.

Drivers of High Injury Rates

There is no clear causation between new employees and injuries, but the current new-employee environment contains multiple factors that help explain the elevated injury rates. The narrative of the Great Resignation is well-known at this point, but periods of low unemployment are ripe for first-year employee injuries.

To start, new employees are more susceptible to injury because they haven’t had time to develop the necessary skills to safely do their work. And as employees leave positions for other jobs, the remaining open jobs can be the most physically demanding, riskiest or least desirable. Employers are left to fill these jobs with a smaller pool of candidates because of low unemployment, potentially creating a vicious cycle.

It’s imperative that employees learn safe work techniques as soon as they start, as bad habits are quick to develop and hard to break.

An under-the-radar trend that’s also impacting first-year injury rates is an infusion of older employees returning to the workforce. Whether they find work fulfilling, haven’t saved enough to retire or wish to delay their social security benefits, employees over 55 years of age have increased by 10% since the year 2000. Older employees may suffer more serious injuries and more delayed recovery than their younger coworkers, and employees aged 55 to 64 report the highest rates of work-related illnesses and injuries.

Improving First-Year Employee Safety

While first-year employees will always face a learning curve to perform their jobs safely, occupational health providers offer many options for improving their safety from the get-go.

Employers can take their first step toward decreasing first-year employee injury rates by hiring employees who can properly and safely accomplish their jobs. Human performance evaluations (HPE), a form of pre-employment physical, ensure that potential employees can perform the essential tasks and duties of their jobs.

A well-designed HPE should be tailored to the exact demands of the position — a certified athletic trainer or physical therapist can customize the evaluation to the specific movements and physical demands of the specific job requirement.

An HPE also gives the potential employee insight into what they will be doing every day; lifting a 30-pound box may seem easy in a job description but become more difficult in practice, particularly when taking into consideration the frequency of the lifting and environmental factors.

Training and Trust

A Canadian study found that only one in five new employees received safety training before beginning their job. Safety training, which should occur before an employee starts and continue on an ongoing basis, can significantly reduce injuries.

Beyond job-specific safety training, employers can offer exercise guidelines, workplace stretching programs, train-the-trainer programs and ergonomic intervention. These types of injury prevention programs can help physically condition employees and properly educate them on risk factors to prevent cumulative trauma and musculoskeletal disorders, a leading cause of workplace injuries.

Programs are most effective when a certified athletic trainer or physical therapist can integrate at the worksite, assessing risks and examining the body mechanics of employees as they work. It’s imperative that employees learn safe work techniques as soon as they start, as bad habits are quick to develop and hard to break.

Ongoing safety and ergonomic programs also benefit tenured employees and can create a work environment in which employees are happier, healthier and more productive.

On-Site Benefits

First-year employees also benefit when occupational health is available at work through an on-site health clinic. The clinicians at an on-site health clinic can work with employees every day, which helps them analyze the types of injuries they see and make targeted recommendations to improve safety and the ergonomic environment.

In particular, athletic trainers working in an on-site center can be on the floor with employees at any time, building relationships and trust that lay the foundation for a safety culture that new employees can embrace on day one. With health care at their fingertips, employees are also more likely to engage in basic preventive care, like annual physicals.

It’s expected that employees will have first-day jitters about meeting new people and impressing their supervisors, but no one wants to become another first-year statistic. With the right occupational health solutions, employers can better protect first-year employees and their overall workforce. &

More from Risk & Insurance